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Getting after it again: 2015 Year in Review

Fifteen months ago, my bitterness reached its peak. The cause was obvious: for four consecutive years, starting with 2011, I had worked too much and adventured too little. Essentially, I had stopped being me.

During the first two years, I wasn’t bothered. My work — mostly guiding, speaking, and writing — was novel and challenging, and I enjoyed the newfound success. My adventure quota still felt fulfilled by my Alaska-Yukon Expedition in 2010. And I was also preoccupied by a woman (who would become my wife) and a new house.

I began to long for a re-balance, however. It remained decidedly illusive in 2013, which was the busiest, most lucrative, and least enjoyable year of my adulthood. Last year was marginally better, but my only two personal backpacking trips — a Wind River High Route attempt and an elk hunt — both failed partly or primarily because I couldn’t give them enough time, to either properly prepare or to succeed even if everything didn’t go my way.

In early-December I had one more opportunity to salvage 2014, with The North Face 50-Mile Championships. Because nearly all of my work was already done for the year, during the 2.5-month training cycle I was free to revert to my pre-2011 ways: I was selfish and myopic. I ran more miles and vertical than I ever had before, prepared for every aspect of the race, and did not entertain any distractions. My 38th-place finish in 7:26 felt like a victory, and gave me hope that my best days weren’t already behind me.

This year I intentionally front-loaded my calendar so that about three-fourths of my work was completed in the first half of the year. Not surprisingly, I came up short in both efforts that I attempted before the end of June — Steve Allen’s Overland Route and the Dirty 30 Trail Run.

Thereafter, however, I went on a tear:


1. Kings Canyon High Basin Route

In 2013 and 2014 I spent two months in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, and slowly stitched together this route. I released a guidebook for it in April, and thru-hiked it in its entirety in July, plus an additional 75 miles of alternate routes and section-hike segments. The 125-mile route is world-class, and competes with the Sierra High Route for being the finest backpacking trip in the High Sierra.

Read more:

Col Creek. The reward for successfully navigating King Col is Col Creek (unofficial), a tributary of Woods Creek. It’s a fast and brush-free descent on continuous slabs. Pyramid Peak is the tallest summit on the left skyline.

Col Creek. The reward for successfully navigating King Col is Col Creek (unofficial), a tributary of Woods Creek. It’s a fast and brush-free descent on continuous slabs. Pyramid Peak is the tallest summit on the left skyline.


2. Wind River Range High Route

In 2014 Buzz Burrell, Peter Bakwin and I failed in our attempt to complete the 95-mile Wind River High Route, after being turned back by hard ice on Bonney Pass. In late-August I returned solo, and thru-hiked it in 4.25 days, then yo-yo’d 100 miles back to my car on an entirely different route in order to research some lower-elevation alternates.

I believe this to be “the” Wind River High Route; so do others. It’s the only version that penetrates the most magnificent part of the range: the northeast corner, which is home to Gannett Peak (the highest point in Wyoming) and the largest concentration of glaciers in the Rocky Mountains. I will release a guidebook for it this winter.

Read more:

No, this is not Alaska, it’s still Wyoming. Klondike Peak, the Sourdough Glacier, and Iceberg Lake.

No, this is not Alaska, it’s still Wyoming. Klondike Peak, the Sourdough Glacier, and Iceberg Lake.


3. Run Rabbit Run

In mid-September I ended a 7-year hiatus from 100-mile ultra marathons with Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, finishing third in 20:12. By starting slow and better maintaining my pace in the later miles, I managed to beat about a dozen more talented and more experienced runners. The $3,500 purse was an unexpected treat, but I can think of easier ways to make a living.

Read more:

Enough energy at Mi 107 for a finish line hop. Credit: USL.tv's Gia Dawn Madole

Enough energy at Mi 107 for a finish line hop. Credit: USL.tv’s Gia Dawn Madole


4. Elk hunting in the Colorado Rockies

On the first day of Second Rifle season, I shot a cow elk at 11,000 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, my first-ever kill. After field dressing and deboning her, my hunting partner Noel and I made two 4-mile round-trips back to the trailhead, with 77 pounds of gear and 171 pounds of organic, grass-fed, free-range, and humanely treated meat. As a beginner hunter I’m not yet emotionally indifferent to pulling the trigger (and I doubt I ever will be), but I feel good about taking more control of my food chain and facing directly the reality of meat-eating.

Read more:

No trophy photo here. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for this magnificent animal. Killing it was not a decision I took lightly.

No trophy photo here. I have nothing but respect and appreciation for this magnificent animal. Killing it was not a decision I took lightly.


5. Vulcano Ultra Trail

Merrell presented me with a last-minute opportunity to fly to Chile and race the Vulcano Ultra Trail 100k in early-December. The adventurous course was well suited for me: it favored strength over speed, since half the course was covered in deep sand; it had ample technical terrain and extensive off-trail segments; and it climbed 15,000 feet, which equates to about 450 feet of vertical change per mile. I finished my ultra season, and my year, with another podium finish, third-place in 13:26.

Read more:

With 10 sandy miles to go, and with a relentless sun and 75-degree temperatures, I thought it prudent to refill my bottles at the Desolacion aid station. Sebastian took the opportunity instead to put 15 seconds on me, a decision which cost him dearly later on.

With 10 sandy miles to go, and with a relentless sun and 75-degree temperatures, I thought it prudent to refill my bottles at the Desolacion aid station. Sebastian took the opportunity instead to put 15 seconds on me, a decision which cost him dearly later on.


What else?

Amanda

Because I decreased my overall workload and traded some business travel for local work, I was around much more in 2015. Amanda has enjoyed the company, at least most of the time. We celebrated our 2-year anniversary in August by hiking the Aspen Four Pass Loop, and are still content with a single child that is furry and four-legged.

Amanda was a huge help as my sole crew member at Run Rabbit Run, and has been encouraging of my efforts to work less and play more.

Sound of Music, anyone? Superb wildflowers and views from below West Maroon Pass, on our way to Frigid Air. It's even better with a lightweight pack.

Sound of Music, anyone? Superb wildflowers and views from below West Maroon Pass, on our way to Frigid Air. It’s even better with a lightweight pack.

Sierra Designs

This has been fun work with a fun team. If you haven’t already, find a comfortable chair and get a bowl of popcorn, then check out our informative SD LIVE series. Also, this spring/summer watch for the release of a co-developed backpack and shelter, with more products to follow. These best-in-class products will be worth the wait.

In 2016 Sierra Designs will release a double-wall tent and suspension backpack that we've co-developed. The Gen3 prototype, in photo, arrives next week and appears almost production-ready.

In 2016 Sierra Designs will release a double-wall tent and suspension backpack that we’ve co-developed. The Gen3 prototype, in photo, arrives next week and appears almost production-ready.

Finances

This year I felt like I worked half as hard, yet I still earned three-fourths of my peak income. How? First, I took on only on the most fruitful opportunities, and traded less productive ones for more free time. And, second, I’m beginning to benefit from my shift towards more passive income and away from active income, e.g. speaking. Expect more print and digital content from me next year, and an updated Gear Guide in 2017.

For the first time in five years, my 2016 calendar includes no guided trips. It’s been great work, but next year I’m trying to focus more on content development and on more personal projects.

For the first time in five years, my 2016 calendar includes no guided trips. It’s been great work, but next year I’m trying to focus more on content development and on more personal projects.


What’s in store for next year?

All signs are that 2016 will be even better. Stay tuned.

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20 Responses to Getting after it again: 2015 Year in Review

  1. Craig Conway December 28, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

    Andy,

    Thanks for sharing! And btw, even if you’re more famous for the long distance stuff, Im actually really excited to read your shorter 100-150ish mile routes you mentioned because those are the kind of routes I can swing with work.

    • Andrew Skurka December 28, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

      You’re not the first person who has said that. Ironically, my “shorter” hikes may have a greater impact on the backpacking community than my long ones.

  2. Matt December 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

    I agree with Craig. Most people are not ready and/or able to dedicate several months of their lives to a backpacking adventure. Not necessarily for lack of desire, but more for lack of availability. As much as I would love to do it, with a family with 4 kids and a full time job, getting out for 7 to 10 days is pretty much the limit in general. Being able to tap into the expertise of one who has scoped out the way before me makes planning and executing at trip of my availability much more enjoyable.

    • Andrew Skurka December 28, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

      I hear you. Your situation is not that dissimilar to mine (wife, house, small business), and these “short is the new long” trips are the obvious answer: awesomeness from start to finish, and the most elegant lines through an area.

  3. Rob December 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm #

    can you tell us more about the tent and backpack?

    • Andrew Skurka December 28, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

      I’d be happy to. We’ve had some top-level brand management changes recently, so the release date is somewhat TBD. At a minimum, Spring 2017, but the existing team wants to launch it direct in late-spring or early-summer. My guess at prices: $250 for the backpack, $300 for the shelter; we’ve hoping to offer them for less, but I don’t want to disappoint.

      The backpack will weigh 2.5-2.75 pounds and will be fully featured: full-length frame rod, generously sized side and waist belt pockets, bottle holster on one shoulder strap, top lid pocket, two compression straps, etc. Very durable fabric, everywhere. Top entry via a fat #10 zipper, which is faster and far less fussy than any other entry system. Volume will be 40-60L using a patented volume adjustment system.

      The tent will weigh about 2 lbs: 18 oz for the fly, 14 oz for the bug room. It’s a double-wall tent, since the two pieces are fully detachable. It will be a very comfortable shelter in conditions when you really need a shelter: 9 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet tall (with ability to pitch it higher for more headroom). Due to asymmetric pole position, it has more usable interior space than any other shelter on the market for its weight. Awesome ventilation: two vertical side doors that can be fully or partially “porched” when weather allows; and a big awning and vent at both peaks to maintain airflow even with the doors closed. (The vents can be fully closed, if it’s really stormy; in those conditions, there will still be enough ventilation via the bottom perimeter.)

      • Bob January 1, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

        Does that mean that spring 2017 is the latest date or the earliest?

        • Andrew Skurka January 1, 2016 at 7:32 pm #

          Spring 2017 is the latest date. The current team is aiming for late-spring/early-summer 2016 for direct release, and I’m fairly certain this will happen. But since direct-only sales would be a deviation from SD’s normal wholesale model, and since we have a new brand manager joining us in a few weeks, I want to hedge any promises.

          • Rob January 5, 2016 at 6:08 pm #

            Does that mean that Glavin has moved on?

          • Andrew Skurka January 6, 2016 at 10:10 am #

            Yes, Glavin has moved on after 3 years with the brand. It was an amicable departure and many of us still keep in touch with him; I’m actually having lunch with him on Friday in SLC. When Glavin took over the brand, it was not part of the conversation, and with his passion and leadership the brand has become technically relevant again. The Backcountry Beds, Tentesegrity tents, and Airflow Rainwear (e.g. Chaps & Cagoule) were largely his ideas.

  4. Rogelio de Fromagio December 29, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    You continue to inspire me. Hoarding savings by working in overdrive mode eventually leads to burn out.
    All my bills are paid, emergency funds secured, now I plan to take a day off from work every 6 weeks, and go for a day hike midweek, when the trail traffic is nil.

  5. Debbie Sanders December 29, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    Thanks for the great articles and books. You are well appreciated overseas as well!

    Greetings from Europe and all the best for 2016.

  6. Paul December 29, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    This is great to read man! We’ve only got one go at this thing. Make sure you’re enjoying it!

  7. Ryan January 1, 2016 at 9:50 pm #

    Andrew, glad you were able to focus on personal adventures more in 2015. Do you plan on putting some of the other routes you had planned to the test in 2016? (Escalante, front range, Yosemite)

    • Andrew Skurka January 2, 2016 at 10:15 am #

      Probably, but I have not finalized my 2016 schedule yet so I don’t know the specifics. BTW, where did you get that list? I don’t think I’ve put it out in many places.

      • Ryan January 2, 2016 at 11:04 am #

        Read it here on your blog when you announced the KCHBR… I believe you mentioned something about the Olympics as well…or maybe that’s just me selfishly hoping. Have you looked at anything in the ONP? You did some guiding there in the past, haven’t you?

        • Andrew Skurka January 2, 2016 at 11:27 pm #

          I’ve found with these routes that a high level of personal familiarity with an area is necessary in order to establish a worthy one. It took me two months in SEKI, over a month in the Winds, months in the Front Range. Without that familiarity, the route will inevitably be wrong somewhere — it took a few inferior passes, it missed an established social trail, it bypassed a favorite peak among locals, etc.

          With specific regard to the Olympics, I don’t have this familiarity, and if were to undertake a high route project there, it would probably require a summer of wandering around before I felt good about it.

  8. CJ January 6, 2016 at 9:25 am #

    Have you ever though about the Solitude Loop Trail in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming…give or take it can be a 65-100 mile loop, depending on which trails you take. Few people, high peaks and gorgeous scenery. It’s something I’m horse riding this year, but may backpack it too.

    • Andrew Skurka January 6, 2016 at 10:08 am #

      Have never heard of it. I’ll have to look it up.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ultramarathon Daily News, Tue, Dec 29 - UltraRunnerPodcast: Ultramarathon News, Podcasts, and Product Reviews - December 29, 2015

    […] How was your year of adventure running? Mine paled in comparison to Skurka’s. […]

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